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Can gaming influence human behavior when it comes to combating climate change?

May 09, 2022

By Sade Akindele and Gerben Spies

Serious gaming: A fun approach to tackling the challenges of the energy transition

When it comes to the energy transition, we need big ideas. And in the last few years, we’ve seen the emergence of plenty of them, from pumped storage and biogas to hydrogen and even the potential of fusion. However, most of the ideas we’re seeing relate to energy production and try to answer the question: How can we power the world with clean, sustainable energy?

But here, we’d like to explore a big idea when it comes to energy consumption at the human level. More specifically, we’re considering how an individual can make decisions and alter their behavior when it comes to consuming energy. What is this big idea? Serious gaming.

The primary intent of serious games is not to entertain (although they do so in many instances!), but rather to learn, think, and act. Just think of the old school flight simulator from the 80’s. Fun? Certainly. But more than that, it helps teach aspiring pilots how to fly an aircraft. And it has been surprisingly effective.

Now here in the Netherlands, our teams are applying the concept of serious gaming to the energy transition. Using clever participation techniques, we are aiming to help community members understand their individual influence on the energy transition. This approach can help drive behavior change from the bottom up and arm people with the knowledge to make small yet positive changes in their daily lives. We believe that if we can get the public to buy-in, it will collectively lead to big impact. 

The primary intent of serious games is not to entertain (although they do so in many instances!), but rather to learn, think, and act.

Serious gaming and the energy transition

Our Company has recently acquired an energy transition consultancy firm out of the Netherlands, Driven by Values. Driven by Values will not only help us support our clients and communities through this transition, but they are also able to help individuals on a more practical level. How? By activating people—young and old—to better understand the impending energy transition and realize how they may play an impactful role. This is where the concept of serious gaming comes into play, and here’s why.  

Most people believe that tackling the energy transition will require a three-pronged approach:

  • Technological solutions
  • Policies in place to reinforce these solutions
  • Behavior changes to adapt towards the newly available solutions 

While it is largely agreed that much of the needed technology is already available and policies are rapidly being installed around the world, the question of behavioral change remains uncertain. How will this technology and policy be adapted on a societal level? How will these effect the choices and habits of individuals? And how can we shift towards sustainable development most effectively?

Taking a grassroots approach, the Driven by Values team has developed an innovative way to bring the energy transition to the fingertips of citizens. This is made possible by using tailormade gaming products and facilitated live sessions. It offers people an engaging way to bring theoretical strategies into actionable steps. Let’s look at some examples below.

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By using a large format ground map that is tailormade to each municipality, the Climate Chase game provides a good overview of the spatial impact of the energy transition.

What serious games are helping people learn?

Driven by Values games are already being played across the Netherlands. And they come from a wide range of demographics, too. From industry decisionmakers and schools, to company sustainability programs or even entire neighborhoods—people across the country are starting to buy in. They are tapping our team of experienced experts to better understand how to use their spheres of influence to bring forward positive outcomes around the energy transition.

While these games may only be making their way across the Netherlands right now, the potential to expand and include participants from communities around the world is boundless!

The team has already designed several serious games, each with the ability to be adapted to fit the needs of its player base. For a taste of the various serious games that our team offers, let’s have a look below:

  • The Climate Competition: A month-long climate competition that gives players weekly assignments for small actions they can take to contribute to the climate challenge, such as energy saving behaviors.
  • Escape room Unlock the Volt: This virtual escape room walks participants through all facets of the energy transition, from the heat transition to the generation of sustainable energy. It confronts you with the effects of your choices in the long term, such as what turning down your thermostat and putting on a sweater may do.
  • The Climate Chase Game: By using a large format ground map that is tailormade to each municipality, this game provides a good overview of the spatial impact of the energy transition. This allows the unique needs of the community in question to be addressed and solved.
  • Communication and participation methods: The team can also facilitate webinars, surveys, and other traditional participation sessions to help build a better understanding of the energy transition.

By leveraging this suite of gaming tools, among several others, our teams have been able to make the energy transition challenge go from what can seem to be obscure and daunting into an engaging—and fun(!)—experience that includes new voices and actions into the conversation.

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Unlock the Volt is a virtual escape room that walks participants through all facets of the energy transition.

Who are these serious games designed for?

The quick answer is: Everyone!

Essentially, anyone who would like to learn more about the energy transition and understand what steps they can make to actualize it is invited to play along. Below are some examples of what is already taking place:

  • Government: Policy makers and inhabitants gathered around a 10-by-10 foot map of their municipality. They discussed their views on where the possibilities lie for installing renewable energy. Two hours and an insightful discussion later, they’ve placed enough wind turbines and solar panels to meet their 2030 local renewable energy goals.
  • Business: Why not combine learning about the energy transition with team building? Colleagues met online to escape within 60 minutes from our escape room “Unlock the Volt”. The first team won a price, and everyone got to know each other better under pressing time constraints.
  • Education: In a secondary school classroom, students tried their hand at our ‘Escape Room’ and paired this activity with a Climate Challenge. This means that over the course of a month, we presented the class with an easy-to-action challenge, such as how to save energy at home.
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Gerben Spies speaking to a class of children about the energy transition.

Will you be next on top?

While these games may only be making their way across the Netherlands right now, the potential to expand and include participants from communities around the world is boundless! Already, we have been able to iterate and reinvent these gaming solutions hundreds of times. But speed is only mounting with our energetic team. Translations are currently underway to bring this Dutch game into English, which would make it far more accessible for our global audience. So, if you’re interested in learning more, don’t wait, reach out now!

Just imagine. Your child could play along with their classmates and feel like they can make a meaningful contribution to the environment. Or your office can participate in a team bonding experience that educates you on this global challenge and arms you with ways you can drive responsible change!

Want to learn more about this fresh approach on how to create change in favor of a more sustainable future? Check out this video.  

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  • Sade Akindele

    Sade works as a Consultant across our Continental Europe and UK operations. She applies creative solutions to move forward the energy transition and plays a cornerstone role in making connections between operations to unlock opportunities.

    Contact Sade
  • Gerben Spies

    A serious games specialist, Gerben combines energy transition concepts and goals with interactive entertainment and education. His job is to find ways to communicate the next steps in the energy transition while building community and buy-in.

    Contact Gerben
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